Talent is a fickle beast. Those who possess it are often led down the pompous, overwrought path of say Dave Weckl or Steve Vai. One might spend more time endorsing drumsticks than supporting the mostly insufferable work of Chick Corea or whiling away the afternoons thinking of interesting places to put a handle on a guitar because switching guitars on a frequent basis is apparently impressive. Another path is, of course, Dream Theater. In this case, the band’s utter hubris led to things like the two-hour, bloated and discombobulated effort that was The Astonishing.
There are plenty of metal bands that have seen the value in incorporating some jazz-training into their compositional landscape. There are band like, of course, Shining (the jazzy one and not the racist one), Ihsahn, and Dysrhythmia incorporating anything from polyrhythms to outright free jazz horn performances to their panorama. There are other bands, like Philadelphia’s Horrendous, that take cues from Atheist and clean up the bass sound while allowing it to walk a bit more freely than other bands resulting in an aura of jazz-fusion. So where does Atavisma fit in?
From the very first sound (cymbals) appearing in the opening track “Chtonic,” it’s apparent that Atavisma has an advantage over many other bands: a drummer with the ear and chops to pull off some avant-garde jazz solos as well as slide seamlessly into a blend of death and doom. It’s not surprising given that subtle experimentation has never been something the French death metal scene shied away from. But where Atavisma succeed is in balancing the jazzy influences against the pure death/doom that forms the backbone of their sound.
At other points on the album, the doom aspect is played down, obscured by the rocketing death metal spiraling out of control. “Extraneous Abysmal Knowledge” follows the wide open intro with blast beats, barbarous riffing and vocals that are a deep, cavernous growl. The drums hang around giving an almost sloppy feel to the rhythms adding to the general aura of despair.
Similarly, “Sacrifice Unto Babylon” opens in depraved cruelty with double bass pounding away on a distinctly two-part riff. The drums effectuate their own melody on the intro using cymbals to keep up with the guitars as the riff slides up the neck of the guitar. The vocals are cleverly layered with the focus on the low, guttural attack in the forefront and a higher, more desperate attack in the background. As the track thunders towards its conclusion the guitars get almost playful, using trills and other flourishes to thin out the attack. As is their style, the end of one track becomes the perfect intro to the following track.
Even if “Monoliths” and the behemoth of a closing track “A Subterranean Life” were removed from The Chtonic Rituals there would still be a solid album here. The inclusion of those two tracks (both of which highlight the doom aspect of death/doom) that push this album over the edge of normalcy and into more elite territory. If there is a complaint to be had it’s that the composition is, at times, seemingly formulaic and that the drums could be let off the leash a bit more often. But, in restraint there is tension and when the tension is released, it feels oh so good.